Sullivan, Leonor Kretzer (1902–1988)

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Sullivan, Leonor Kretzer (1902–1988)

U.S. congressional representative. Born Leonor Kretzer on August 21, 1902, in St. Louis, Missouri; died in St. Louis on September 1, 1988; daughter of Frederick

William and Nora (Jostrand) Kretzer; attended public and private schools in St. Louis; attended Washington University; married John Berchmans Sullivan (a legislator and politician), on December 27, 1941 (died January 1951).

Leonor Sullivan was born Leonor Kretzer in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1902. After attending both private and public schools, she attended night classes at Washington University. She also taught business and accounting classes in addition to directing the St. Louis Comptometer School. Upon her marriage in 1941 to John B. Sullivan, U.S. representative of the 11th District in Missouri, she entered the world of politics as his campaign manager and administrative aide from 1942 until his death in 1951. She then diverted her administrative energies to supporting Missouri congressional representative Theodore Irving. No longer content with staying in the political background, Sullivan resigned her position in May 1952, to run for the Democratic congressional nomination in her own right. Two years later, despite the unwelcoming political climate for women, she defeated incumbent Claude I. Bakewell, who had been appointed to serve out her husband's term, to win that seat in the 82nd Congress.

The victory made Leonor Sullivan the only woman representative from Missouri. She earned a reputation as a defender of consumers, and worked throughout her nearly 25-year career in Congress to protect the American public from hazardous substances, harmful cosmetics, food-color additives, and tainted meat. Beyond consumer health issues, Sullivan was instrumental in the passage of the 1968 Consumer Credit Protection Act, which mandated "truth in lending," in which lenders are required to give customers information about the cost of credit. The act had special significance for women, as it gave them the right to obtain credit under their own names.

Sullivan also championed the interests of the poor through her attempts to revive a surplus food-stamp program that the government had offered between 1939 and 1943. Although the legislation initially was rejected in 1957 and again in 1959, Sullivan's persistence was rewarded when a permanent food-stamp program won approval from Congress in 1964. Once again, women—the primary providers of meals in families—benefited from her legislative efforts; as recipients, they could select food from grocery shelves rather than be forced to accept the government's agricultural surplus. Her service in these causes and as a member of the Committee on Banking and Currency, the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, and the Joint Committee on Defense Production won her reelection 12 times. The 74-year-old declined to run in the 1977 campaign, but accomplished passage of the 1976 Fishery and Conservation Management Act, which declared a 200-mile fisheries conservation zone off U.S. shores. Richard A. Gephardt succeeded to her seat. Sullivan returned to her native St. Louis and lived there until her death, at age 86, on September 1, 1988.


Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

B. Kimberly Taylor , freelance writer, New York, New York

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Sullivan, Leonor Kretzer (1902–1988)

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